McCormick Magazine

Professor helps discover immigrant networks

The Field Museum

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Noshir ContractorNoshir Contractor, the Jane S. and William J. White Professor in Behavioral Sciences in the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences, is no stranger to partnering with Chicago institutions. Contractor (below right), whose research focuses on social and organizational networks, recently worked with the Field Museum on a project called "Creative Networks: Mexican Immigrant Assets in Chicago."

The project, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, was a collaboration among the Field Museum's Center for Cultural Understanding and Change, the Team Engineering Collaboratory, and the Science of Networks in Communities research group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where Contractor worked before coming to McCormick in 2007.

From March through August of 2005 Contractor collaborated with anthropologists to investigate how Mexican immigrants in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs use social networks to find services. To map these networks, an interdisciplinary team of social network researchers and ethnographers gathered data from immigrants through focus groups and surveys. Researchers used IKNOW — a web-based network data collection, mapping, visualization, and analytic environment developed by Contractor and his team — to study the patterns of knowledge and information through networks.

"The findings provided a suite of innovative metrics about immigrants' use of their network and cultural assets to obtain assistance with education, health care, and jobs," Contractor says. "These metrics offer new insights on policies for assisting recent immigrant populations."

The results of the study were published in late 2006, but Contractor and officials from the Field plan to continue to work together.

—Emily Ayshford